Obama's very long to-do list
Obama’s honeymoon will be brief. He faces the extraordinary challenge of dealing with a nation that has plunged into bankruptcy and exported financial crises around the globe due to a reckless orgy of borrowing and outright criminal fraud on Wall Street...
Americans did not `liberate’ Iraq, but they certainly liberated their own nation last week by sweeping the Republican Party from power. One prays America’s long nightmare of foreign aggressions, fear, religious extremism, and flirting with neo-fascism is finally at an end.
The humiliated Republican Party appears to be marching off to richly-deserved irrelevance in the backwoods of rural America. The image it leaves behind it, as this column has been saying since 2001, is one of blind arrogance and transcendent stupidity. The party’s dimwitted leaders became tools of the military-industrial-petroleum complex and scheming neoconservatives whose primary political and emotional loyalties lay in the Mideast, not North America.
A forward-looking Democratic Party that represents America’s increasingly mixed racial future is triumphant. While other Democrats could also have won the election – at a time when the Republicans were detested and mocked – Obama ran a brilliant, flawless campaign.
As a senior Republican rightly remarked, `Obama has run the best moderate Republican campaign since Dwight Eisenhower!’ Democrats occupied the political center while the Republicans were left with the wilder fringes of the right and far right.
President-elect Barack Obama, formerly the `skinny little kid from Hawaii with the funny name,’ has shown the world that America, for all its many faults and problems, is indeed a nation of opportunity, justice, and human decency. Eighty percent of Americans are white but they elected a man of color, or mulatto, because of his patent intelligence and vision. Obama’s victory does much to ease the national historical disgrace of slavery.
People around the planet are applauding America’s re-engagement with the rest of the civilized world. Interestingly, the only nations lamenting Sen. John McCain’s loss were Israel, Georgia and the Philippines.
But Obama’s honeymoon will be brief. He faces the extraordinary challenge of dealing with a nation that has plunged into bankruptcy and exported financial crises around the globe due to a reckless orgy of borrowing and outright criminal fraud on Wall Street.
The new president-elect must also face a daunting number of challenges abroad that will weight heavily on his first term. His rapid appointment of Rep. Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff sent out tremors of concern, both among thinking Democrats and across the Mideast. Emanuel is a hard-line neocon with strong sympathies for Israel and a reputation for sharp elbows.
Obama’s smashing electoral victory, and the Democrat’s command of both House and Senate, provides Obama with a unique opportunity to resolve some of the nation’s most vexing and persistent foreign policy problems.
The first key step is to demilitarize US foreign policy by stopping the Pentagon and CIA from making policy and return its formulation and conduct to the professionals at the State Department.
RUSSIA. President Dimitri Medvedev lost no time in greeting Obama’s victory with growls of anger over Georgia and Ukraine, and a dramatic announcement Moscow was deploying short-ranged `Iskander’ missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave to counter the Bush administration’s deployment of an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
America’s most important national security challenge is not Osama bin Laden or Iraq, but how to deal with Russia which has thousands of nuclear warheads targeted at the US. President George W. Bush and his mentor Dick Cheney went out of their way to antagonize, provoke, and humiliate Russia with their daft anti-missile plan and their backing of Georgia’s incredibly foolish attack on South Ossetia, a provocation Moscow believed was designed to boost the electoral chances of `I know how to win wars’ John McCain.
Obama should move swiftly to terminate the anti-missile program, only 184 km from Russia’s border, which is supposedly designed against Iranian nuclear-armed missiles which do not even exist. The foolhardy Georgians must be told to settle down and stop provoking Russia before it ignites an East-West clash, or worse. NATO had better think three times before agreeing to go to war for Poti, Georgia; Luhansk, Ukraine; or Riga. Just such reckless and indefensible treaty commitments dragged Britain into two ruinous world wars.
One also hopes Obama might renew President Dwight Eisenhower’s call for international nuclear disarmament. He should move swiftly to end Bush’s daft program of engineering a whole new generation of nuclear weapons.
Ukraine is the next looming crisis, and an explosive one. Washington and Moscow have got to work out an agreement over Ukraine that guarantees its continued independence but avoids it becoming a NATO spear pointed at Russia’s heart.
The US/NATO eastward move to Russia’s borders was a strategic and historic mistake that has provoked anti-western forces in Russia and stoked its traditional xenophobia. The US and its allies should agree to a pullback of NATO forces in exchange for ironclad guarantees from Moscow that the independence of the ex-satellites will be respected.
CHINA – Dealing with China’s emergence as a rival to America will be the second most important US foreign policy issue after keeping normal relations with Russia. The Republican Party idea of setting up China as a potential foe is wrong-headed. Washington must accept a diminution of US influence in eastern Asia in exchange for a peaceful emergence of China as the regional superpower. There are no basic strategic antagonisms between the two nations.
THE `WAR ON TERROR’ - Re-name it `attacks by anti-American groups’ and stop mislabeling it a `war’ to be waged by the ham-handed Pentagon. Every village bombed in Iraq or Afghanistan, every suspect tortured, every assassination from the air adds more recruits to anti-American forces.
While the Bush administration was obsessed by its fruitless hunt for Osama bin Laden, the real threat to US national security was not in the Hindu Kush mountains, but on Wall Street, where the Forty Financial Thieves were creating a worldwide economic meltdown.
IRAQ – Obama should accelerate his pledge to remove US troops – all of them – from Iraq and let the Arab League assume security responsibility for that strife-torn nation. Bush’s attempt to conquer and plunder Iraq’s oil was worthy of Mussolini. Bankrupt Washington can no longer afford a $10 billion monthly occupation of Iraq. Hopefully, Obama will put an end to Bush-Cheney-neocon dreams of an American Mideast Raj.
ISRAEL/PALESTINE - This conflict lies at the heart of much of the anti-Western violence coming from the Muslim world. The men who crashed airliners into New York and Washington on 9/11 made it clear their primary motivation was to revenge the suffering of 5.5 million Palestinians. Obama now has an opportunity to end the Bush-Cheney crusade against the Muslim world and sharply reduce what we call terrorism.
Obama could throw his weight behind Israel’s center and left parties who support a genuine land for peace deal. Such an agreement would go far to ending the Muslim world’s hostility to the US and attacks on the West.
Equally important, the new president could also announce the US will gradually cease supporting dictatorial rulers across the Muslim world – which this writer holds is the primary cause of what we call `terrorism’ – and really begin cultivating democracy in the region.
But Obama has already come under intense pressure from the US Israel lobby, which speaks for Israel’s hard line right wing, and was forced to support its goals at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention. Israel’s right rejects ceding any land to Palestinians and will only tolerate a Palestinian tribal reservation, or `Bantustan.’
Still, there are tantalizing hints of more openness on Israel’s center and left to a real peace deal. But none will happen without direct US intervention and pressure. On the other hand, the hard-line Likud Party may well win Israel’s next general election.
Continued American support for dictatorships in the Muslim world means it will continue to bedevil US foreign policy and threaten national security.
AFGHANISTAN – Obama has failed to understand the deep tribal and historical complexities of the struggle in Afghanistan. He has vowed to send 15,000 more troops and even attack inside Pakistan. Obama should listen to the Secretary General of NATO and senior officers who say no military solution to the conflict is possible. The way out of the Afghan quagmire is through negotiations that include Taliban and its allies. Ending this unnecessary war is urgent. The longer it continues, the greater the threat that nuclear-armed Pakistan will explode and destabilize the entire region.
President-elect Obama, there is no such thing as a `good war,’ as you termed Afghanistan.
IRAN and NORTH KOREA – Obama’s calls for direct talks with these two problem nations was wise and appropriate. Both are eagerly awaiting a show of respect and moderation from the United States, and assurances it will not attack them. Their limited nuclear ambitions are primarily for self-defense.
EUROPE - All Europe is joyous over Obama’s victory and eagerly expecting improved relations. It is time for Washington to start treating the EU as an equal and seeking its counsel. The US has a lot to learn from the EU, which is far ahead of America in human rights, environmental and consumer protection, transportation, and effective governance.
An Obama administration should be able to improve problematic relations with Latin America and hopefully end the shameful blockade of Cuba. Black Africa is now in America’s camp. India, which is developing ICBM’s and nuclear submarines, will be a future challenge to US world power. But that is down the road.
Many of these hopes for more sensible, mature US foreign policy may turn to ashes as Washington’s mighty special interests begin to squeeze Obama and the Democrats. Do not under-estimate the power of the military-industrial-petroleum complex, big finance, the Israel lobby, big pharma, and the farm lobby, to name a few. President Obama must tackle all these major issues while wrestling with the financial crisis of 08.
The new president, the repository of the hopes of a majority of Americans and people around the globe, must move swiftly and decisively before the weight of politics and powerful interests weighs him down with chains. But not since the ebullient days of new president, John F. Kennedy, has the world’s heart been so open and filled with good feelings for the United States of America.